Deep in the throes of the “You don’t need a man” litany, encouraged by the wine-tinted lips of my loyal friends, comrades in arms; I was feeling empowered.
Soaking up alcohol and girl power on my sofa, this snappy piece of encouragement rang as true as all of the moments that “Bad Blood” had spoken to me in a similar way, pouring out in jarring, sassy waves of indignation from every speaker, for months.
Even at first, when I found the song annoying and trite, (“You made a really deep cut, and baby now we’ve got bad blood. Hey!”) the refrains weaved their way inside my body through a sheer method of repeat and, in a few months, apparently T Swift had written the song based on my life…
I knew all of the words and even the whole sound effect sequence from the beginning of the music video because I had watched it so many times.
The conclusion: Me, aligning so closely with our victim of a vocalist, villainizing my ex, was maybe a touch irrational. Relationships are a two way street, so the saying goes.
Even so, you can’t reason with righteous, pop fury… I had found my anthem.
“Yeah!” I unfurled, to my friends, to my rearview mirror, to my showerhead. “Yeah, Taylor! We don’t need a man!”
The act of stepping into an alone me meant sloughing off bits from our together life and trying to produce a cheery welcome for a lifestyle that was pleasant enough but vacant in a way I had never felt before.
Turning over a new leaf meant being willing to say goodbye to the things that would fall off the underbelly when it was upside down. Deliberately choosing this took courage, but I weighed my choices tenderly and leapt away from my old life.
So, entranced by my independence, things got a little crazy. Eagerly I propelled myself by doing exactly what I thought would bring me the most pleasure.
I checked out scores of library books and hermit-ed for days, responded to the men who hit on me in bars with “No thank you, peasant,” and finally acknowledged my ineptness at cooking for two, or even one, and stored board games in my oven.
As I nestled into this lifestyle, took it in stride and spit it back out at anyone who asked, it seems the universe felt I was superimposing a tough layer of false security over a still very ragged, weepy wound and, subsequently, threw a little something my way.
On a chilly Wisconsin evening in late winter, I walked home from the preschool where I worked, swinging my lunchbox against my tights, probably humming “Bad Blood,” and definitely dreaming about the frothy cocktail I had earned after a long day of wrangling and educating.
Trouncing up the steps of my old, ramshackle home, I planned to check the mail and take a quick shower before heading out to meet a friend. Warm air gasped out onto the porch once the lock clicked open, and I snuck inside, headed to the bathroom in a rush.
In my hurry to make happy hour, I spun the shower nozzle aggressively, water spilling from the faucet in loud crashes. As I peeled down my tights, I glanced over to see that the shower water was not finding its course, not spiraling down the drain at all. Instead it stacked on itself, coming out of the faucet so fast that already it was leveling off not far from the top of the shallow basin.
I panicked. When I tried to yank the faucet to off, the metal wouldn’t budge, and the water rose so quickly that soon I’d have a splashing flood on my hands: a crushing wave sulking over the side of the tub, sliding off the bathroom tile and soaking into the hardwood floors that covered my flat.
Bumping and banging into my kitchen, I retrieved my largest pot in a frenzy and collapse of cupboards. Skittering back into the bathroom, I plunged the pot crookedly into the tub, where it snorted up a small portion of the water.
With the pot braced awkwardly between my noodle arms, I wobbled through the hall, cursing out loud into the foyer, rushing to slam open the door and send the lukewarm slosh rolling down the front porch onto the hard, cold, waiting ground.
I repeated this uncomfortable procedure: the initial dip of my shoulder and the pot, the waddle, and then the crash of water, over and over, spilling a trail behind me.
Each time, I only managed to remove enough water to break even. My payment for each trip from the bathroom to the porch was the full tub of water, stubbornly in the same place as before when I returned for another scoop.
My only success was in turning my cream dress totally transparent from the bath water and the sweat of my exertion. My arms and back burned after a half hour of the unrelenting, unrewarding motion and my eyes filled with tears at this irritation, quickly turned harsh.
I was alone, and this job demanded a second, a partner, a somebody to beat the stupid asshole faucet, someone to plunge into the water alongside me, to buy me enough time to tuck my hair behind my ear or phone the landlord.
I considered quitting and letting the apartment drown in the flow of water. I daydreamed about a blackberry mojito and about how this sort of thing never happened to anyone else in the entire world, probably.
Even so, I continued. After one particularly resigned thrust, I heard a familiar voice, a colleague walking past on her way home, as she recognized me.
“Dana?” she said, “Do you need some help?”
Now, with the two of us shoveling water, we began to beat the stream. Staggering our trips and grunting past one another, finally our pots scraped at the bottom of the basin, allowing for a quick rest.
During this slight pause, my colleague, Elizabeth, noticed my appearance for the first time. She glanced at me: red faced, makeup running, breath forced out like a cough. With the slice of time we had bought with our teamwork, she decidedly called my landlord. No answer.
The cascading piles of water were building volume again and I was clearly spent.
“I don’t know what else to do. Maybe the fire department…?” she offered next.
Living near the state capitol, a huge truck from Station One came flying up the street only a few minutes after she made the call. It honked and yelled with hysterically flashing lights like it was coming for a devouring block fire, instead of for a girl in a see-through dress who had been crying for an hour because her arms hurt.
Unfortunately (and also fortunately) the four fully costumed firefighters who bounded up my porch were over six feet tall and deeply handsome. Each who responded showed up with concerned questions and with dimples.
At first, they all tried to squeeze into the tiny bathroom where I was cornered with a half-empty pot. When they noticed how distraught I was, three of them helped me out into the hall, and we left one alone in the room to assess the disaster.
In the hall, I attempted to construct a narrative that was half flirtatious, half avoiding eye contact because, you guys, I wasn’t totally sure which tactic to pursue in light of the recent events.
Only a moment into my muddled speech, the ferocious fountain sputtered off and Attractive Firefighter #1 rejoined us.
“Thank you,” I managed, “How did you do it?”
In a deep, smiling, stronger-than-me man voice he said, “I used my muscles to turn the faucet off.”
Cue me melting into a puddle of more tears, of bathwater, sweat, and lots of Bad Blood. Hurried thank yous, you’re welcomes, and quick exits followed. I tried not to call anyone a ¨peasant.¨
A few hours later, sitting alone in a warm robe, I knew this had happened for a reason. I didn’t need the crutch of “Bad Blood,” or the man-hating, well-intentioned slogan we’d decided on before.
I needed to carve out a niche that balanced a self-constructed life with the idea that no one really expected me to heal alone, in isolation, without the comfort of family, and friends, and hot firefighters.
I had been misreading “I don’t need a man,” as “I don’t need anyone.”
Reevaluating my mantra, sipping hot peppermint tea in the aftermath of the almost-flood revealed that this niche is trickier to fit than the blind, anger-fueled path of chosen isolation.
It is a thinner, more specific sliver of a truth: you can simultaneously be single and brave and still need some help.